What Berlin lacks in beauty and aesthetic architecture, it compensates for in exotic restaurants, compelling history museums and an electric, never ending nightlife. The city has something for everyone. Whether you’re there to party hard, a history buff or a fashion fiend eager to get lost in a quirky vintage shop, you won’t be disappointed. Living as I once did just a two-hour bus journey away from it, I soon got to know Berlin and its’ various eclectic, hipster districts. The following list includes some of the nicer restaurants, bars and clubs I discovered during my time in this crazy city.
This burrito bar is located in Mitte and is an ideal spot to come if you’ve just hopped off the bus or train at Alexanderplatz. It offers fast, hearty Mexican fare with prices from just €6 or €7. The menu is varied and cheap, with a team of friendly staff making tacos, burritos and quesadillas fresh to order. I first came here with a few friends in a hangry, ravenous state after having skipped breakfast and then enduring a grueling 3 hour bus journey. I left satt und froh.
Located in the frenetic, pulsating heart of Kreuzberg, this casual Italian restaurant serves up authentic pasta dishes fast and is just a few minutes’ walk from the Kottbusser Tor U-Bahn station. Its’ service uses a buzzing alarm system rather than a team of waiters, meaning you get to save a few extra euros for a cocktail in Kreuzberg.
I couldn’t write a blog about restaurants in Berlin without including a Vietnamese restaurant. I first tried Vietnamese food when I was living in Leipzig and have been hooked on it ever since. Vietnamese dishes are quite healthy and usually include fresh vegetables and grilled meats served in either a broth or sauce with noodles, garnished with crunchy lettuce strips, nuts or lemongrass. Energetic and authentic, this restaurant is always packed with tourists and locals alike. Amid the background noise of sizzling woks and multilingual chit chat, waiters scurry to and fro, ferrying bowls of aromatic noodle dishes and fruity milkshakes. It’s the perfect place to eat if you’re looking for an adventurous lunch after a morning spent sightseeing.
Das Hotel is located on a street that no hotel should ever be located on: loud, chaotic and wild. Thankfully, Das Hotel is actually not a hotel. A cocktail bar with a floral, vintage interior illuminated only by flickering candlelight, it epitomizes the retro, hipster spirit that defines Kreuzberg. Barmaids languidly sit on counter tops, chainsmoking and laughing with customers while their co-workers zig zag around purposefully behind the counter, shaking, slicing and juicing to serve up Moscow mules, mojitos and the like. Its’ live music and energetic atmosphere makes it an ideal place to start your night.
If you find Das Hotel too crowded, check out Cake Club next door. This late bar is just as retro but a lot more chilled out. With a motley arrangement of 1970s armchairs and a mélange of relaxing jazz tracks, allow yourself to be whisked off to another era while sipping one of their funky cocktails and catching up with friends.
This chic cocktail bar located in Mitte is the antithesis of its’ vintage, flea market inspired counterparts in neighbouring districts. In trying to create a “nice place for people to drink,” its’ owner Dustin Render forbids its customers from smoking and has denounced the shabby chic typical to most of Berlin’s trendy spots. Instead of a greasy candle stick or worn sofa, you’ll find mood lighting, contemporary photography and geometric Berlin artwork. This creates a cool ambiance which attracts a colourful cohort of well-dressed young professionals and glamourous types. Its’ boutique cocktail menu is innovative and creative but is reasonable considering the skill that goes into making them. Interesting options include the “I can’t Feel My Face” which has salt in the egg white to numb one’s lips, or else the “Lucifer” cocktail, containing a mix of cold brew coffee, rum and brown sugar served with a red pepper that gradually changes the flavour of the cocktail. The bar’s motto is “the trick to avoid hangovers is to stay drunk,” and this certainly won’t be a problem if you stay here long enough.
Club der Visionaere
While Berlin has a reputation for its’ heavy techno scene, not all its’ clubs are located in former nuclear power stations or industrial steel vaults. Club der Visionaere is neither of the above. A rustic and understated spot between Kreuzberg and Treptower Park, it sits on a canal in a small brick building and boasts a terrace right by the water and a dance floor downstairs. Its small dancefloor and less central location gives it a more laid-back atmosphere than most of the city’s bigger clubs. The venue is best enjoyed on a midsummer’s night when you can chill with friends beneath the weeping willow on the wooden deck, engaging in deep philosophical conversations ueber Gott und die Welt until the sun comes up.
This club is, again, not as hectic as other techno clubs in the city but still a good place to come if you’re curious to experience what going out in Berlin is like. Located in an old TV factory, this small venue has a dance floor downstairs and a smoking area upstairs for those who find if the techno playlist too much.
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Geist im Glas
At the weekend, brunch is the most important meal for Berliners: a staple, sustenance, a means of recovering from the night before. My all-time favourite place to have brunch in Berlin is Geist im Glas. Located in the hip, colourful neighbourhood of Neukoelln, which is home to students, artists and a large Turkish population, this bar is located on one of its’ side streets. I first came here on a bitingly cold Sunday afternoon at the end of January. The bar was full of hipsters clad in long black coats, the guys wearing berets, the girls sporting severe micro fringes and polo necks, the air thick with the aroma of coffee mingling with the smell of pancakes frying in butter. The bar is warm and cosy, its furnishings simple. Flowers placed in jars are set upon plain wooden tables, a chalkboard announcing the specials hanging on the cracked sepia wallpaper. Its brunch options are indulgent and comforting: my personal favourite are the fluffy buttermilk pancakes served with a dollop of dulce de leche, whisky infused maple syrup and crispy bacon. Enjoyed with a cheeky cocktail or a cup of their endless filter coffee, brunch at Geist will be sure to lift your spirits.
*Disclaimer- The bar only serves brunch at weekends and is often quite packed, so be prepared to wait around half an hour for a table.
If you don’t have the time or indeed patience to travel out to Neukoelln and want to set yourself up for a day of sightseeing in Berlin, try breakfast at Distrikt Coffee. With a chilled atmosphere and friendly staff, this spot is a good place to start your day. Their menu includes sourdough toast stacked with avocado and feta, banana bread, homemade granola or fluffy pancakes. The portions aren’t as big as Geist im Glas but their dishes are fresh and skillfully created.
If, however, a leisurely brunch is out of the question, if you’ve missed your alarm after a night out that went on for longer than you’re used to and find yourself running like a mad man to catch the S-Bahn to the airport, get yourself a Berliner. Filled with jam and doused in sugar, it gives you a boost of sugar which everybody needs at some point during their stay in Berlin. Just don’t make John F Kennedy’s mistake by calling yourself one. The locals have heard that one before.